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Causes of Estrangement and How to Overcome It

When I began to speak about the abuse that happened in our family, I wrote to the House of Justice about how much contact I should have with them and they suggested:

Such an attitude (forgiveness and insight into their actions) does not preclude your being prudent in deciding upon the appropriate amount of contact with your parents. In reaching your decision you should be guided by such factors as their degree of remorse over what they inflicted on you in the past, the extent of their present involvement in practices which are so contrary to Bahá’í Teachings, and the level of vulnerability you perceive within yourself to being influenced adversely by them. In the process of reaching a decision, you may well find it useful to seek the advice of experts such as your therapist.  (Universal House of Justice to me, 9 September, 1992)

Based on this, I wrote letters to my parents, asking them to take responsibility for their actions by paying for my therapy and assuring me that my son would never be subjected to the same thing.  They tried to have me declared crazy and have my son taken away.  When that didn’t work, I was shunned by my parents and siblings, and no matter what efforts I made to overcome it, my parents passed away still estranged and my brothers have shown no desire to heal the rift between us.

For more information, you might want to look at:

Should I Send a Confrontation Letter?

As someone working to bring unity to the world, the fact that I could not have unity within my own family has been a considerable source of pain for most of my adult life.

As I look around though, I realize that there has always been estrangement in families.  I’m not as unique as I once believed.  It seems we were created that way:

Souls are inclined toward estrangement. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 265)

‘Abdu’l-Baha tells us:

The love of family is limited; the tie of blood relationship is not the strongest bond. Frequently members of the same family disagree, and even hate each other.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 36)

How often it happens that in a family, love and agreement are changed into enmity and antagonism.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 79-80)

In Ruhi Book 1 we spent much time discussing the 5 things that inflict the greatest harm on the Cause, estrangement being one of the five:

Nothing whatsoever can, in this Day, inflict a greater harm upon this Cause than dissension and strife, contention, estrangement and apathy, among the loved ones of God. Flee them, through the power of God and His sovereign aid, and strive ye to knit together the hearts of men, in His Name, the Unifier, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 8)

The Baha’i standard would have us love each other so much we’d spend our money and give up our own desires for each other:

Cause them to love one another so as to sacrifice their spirits, expend their money and give up their desires for each other’s sake!  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 263)

That’s a hard standard to live up to!

What are the Causes?

Misunderstandings:

This hatred and enmity, this bigotry and intolerance are outcomes of misunderstandings . . . This is the real cause of enmity, hatred and bloodshed in the world; the reason of alienation and estrangement among mankind.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 96)

Selfish purposes:

Everything which conduces to separation and estrangement is satanic because it emanates from the purposes of self. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 207)

Effects of Estrangement:

Stress:

This “Most Great Separation”, as Bahá’u’lláh referred to the severing of the relationship [between Himself and Mírzá Yahyá], perplexed and confused believers who were unfamiliar with Mírzá Yahyá’s conduct … The anguish it brought upon Bahá’u’lláh is reflected in the term He used to refer to this period – Ayyám-i-Shidád, the “Days of Stress”.  (Geoffrey W. Marks, Call to Remembrance, p. 132)

Death and Dissolution:

Consider how clearly it is shown in creation that the cause of existence is unity and cohesion and the cause of nonexistence is separation and dissension. By a divine power of creation the elements assemble together in affinity, and the result is a composite being. Certain of these elements have united, and man has come into existence . . . But when these elements separate, when their affinity and cohesion are overcome, death and dissolution of the body they have built inevitably follow. Therefore, affinity and unity among even these material elements mean life in the body of man, and their discord and disagreement mean death. Throughout all creation, in all the kingdoms, this law is written: that love and affinity are the cause of life, and discord and separation are the cause of death.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 207)

‘Abdu’l-Baha becomes overwhelmed by grief:

I swear this by the beauty of the Lord: whensoever I hear good of the friends, my heart filleth up with joy; but whensoever I find even a hint that they are on bad terms one with another, I am overwhelmed by grief. Such is the condition of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Then judge from this where your duty lieth.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 231)

How to Prevent Estrangement:

Through love, respect and courtesy:

Where love, respect and courtesy are genuinely and mutually expressed, estrangement finds no accommodation and problems become soluble challenges.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1994 May 19, response to US NSA)

Through consultation:

You have asked, however, for specific rules of conduct to govern the relationships of husbands and wives … If, God forbid, they fail to agree, and their disagreement leads to estrangement, they should seek counsel from those they trust and in whose sincerity and sound judgement they have confidence, in order to preserve and strengthen their ties as a united family.  (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 456)

How to Live with Estrangement:

You may have to sever your ties:

Although Bahá’u’lláh tried to conceal Mírzá Yahyá’s attempt on his life from His companions, further acts of treachery and betrayal forced Him to sever all ties with His younger half brother.  (Geoffrey W. Marks, Call to Remembrance, p. 132)

Show kindness:

Steps should first be taken to do away with this estrangement, for only then will the Word take effect. If a believer showeth kindness to one of the neglectful, and, with great love, gradually leadeth him to an understanding of the validity of the Holy Cause, so that he may come to know the fundamentals of God’s Faith and the implications thereof—such a one will certainly be transformed. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 265)

Ways to Overcome Estrangement:

Through the powers of the Holy Spirit:

It is clear that limited material ties are insufficient to adequately express the universal love … No worldly power can accomplish the universal love … the Holy Spirit will give to man greater powers than these, if only he will strive after the things of the spirit and endeavour to attune his heart to the Divine infinite love.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 36)

Prayer:

Bring them together again, O Lord, by the Power of Thy Covenant, and gather their dispersion by the Might of Thy Promise, and unite their hearts by the dominion of Thy Love! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 263)

Make every effort to remove any feelings of estrangement:

The people of the world are carefully watching the Bahá’ís today, and minutely observing them. The believers must make every effort, and take the utmost care to ward off and remove any feelings of estrangement.  (Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 207)

Fix your gaze on unity:

Shut your eyes to estrangement, then fix your gaze upon unity.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 67)

Love each other in God and for God:

When you love a member of your family or a compatriot, let it be with a ray of the Infinite Love! Let it be in God, and for God! Wherever you find the attributes of God love that person, whether he be of your family or of another. Shed the light of a boundless love on every human being whom you meet.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 36)

Through truthfulness, uprightness, faithfulness, kindliness, good-will and friendliness:

Consort with all the peoples, kindreds and religions of the world with the utmost truthfulness, uprightness, faithfulness, kindliness, good-will and friendliness; that all the world of being may be filled with the holy ecstasy of the grace of Bahá, that ignorance, enmity, hate and rancor may vanish from the world and the darkness of estrangement amidst the peoples and kindreds of the world may give way to the Light of Unity.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 445)

Through love, patience, resignation, forgiveness, friendship and reconciliation:

If the friends and relatives are keeping themselves at a distance from thee, be thou not sad, for God is near to thee. Associate thou, as much as thou canst, with the relatives and strangers; display thou loving kindness; show thou forth the utmost patience and resignation. The more they oppose thee, shower thou upon them the greater justice and equity; the more they show hatred and opposition toward thee, challenge thou them with great truthfulness, friendship and reconciliation.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 557-558)

Promote amity and concord and secure an active and whole-hearted cooperation:

They must endeavor to promote amity and concord amongst the friends, efface every lingering trace of distrust, coolness and estrangement from every heart, and secure in its stead an active and whole-hearted cooperation for the service of the Cause.  (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Administration, p. 38)

Benefits of Overcoming Estrangement:

Heaven will support you:

Heaven will support you while you work in this in-gathering of the scattered peoples of the world … You will be servants of God, who are dwelling near to Him, His divine helpers in the service, ministering to all Humanity. All Humanity! Every human being! Never forget this!  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 36)

The Grace of the Holy Spirit will be given and we will become the centre of the Divine blessings:

In short, whatsoever thing is arranged in harmony and with love and purity of motive, its result is light, and should the least trace of estrangement prevail the result shall be darkness upon darkness…. If this be so regarded, that assembly shall be of God, but otherwise it shall lead to coolness and alienation that proceed from the Evil One…. Should they endeavour to fulfil these conditions the Grace of the Holy Spirit shall be vouchsafed unto them, and that assembly shall become the centre of the Divine blessings, the hosts of Divine confirmation shall come to their aid, and they shall day by day receive a new effusion of Spirit.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 88-89)

Here’s a book you might find helpful:

How has this helped you understand this topic better?  Post your comments below.

Inclusive Baha’i Communities

 

Recently I’ve had a series of discussion with people who are “different”, who wonder where their place is, in the Baha’i community.  Maybe they are autistic; or deaf or have Down’s syndrome.  Maybe they have mental illness; or lived through a traumatic event.  No matter the circumstances of their lives, their stories are all the same:  they feel excluded from Baha’i community events; and whenever they try to share their story with others, they are shut down, told to stop being so negative, told to focus their attention on the core activities.

“Go away, conform and leave us alone” is the message they are given, over and over again.

They ask me:  Do I have a place in the Baha’i Community?

Of course they do!  And it always hurts my heart to hear these stories!

Isn’t it obvious that we’re all one?  What does oneness mean if not that they are welcome?

What is the Standard We’re Aiming For?

Oneness

Let’s look at the concept of oneness for a moment.

Everything in God’s creation is unique – why would we expect individuals to be different?

In God’s creation there is only one of everything. No two things are the same.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 4, p. 198)

Every member of the human race is born into the world as a trust of the whole:

In this regard, each individual needs to understand that, since the body of humankind is one and indivisible, each member of the human race is born into the world as a trust of the whole and that the advantage of the part in a world society is best served by promoting the advantage of the whole.  (Baha’i International Community, 1998 Feb 18, Valuing Spirituality in Development)

Bahá’u’lláh compared the world to the human body.  Every part looks different, and has a different function but all are needed for the efficient functioning of the body.  No one makes fun of the knee cap for not being able to see; or excludes the ear when going for a walk.  So too with every human being, no matter how limited or “different” they may seem – they all contribute to the whole; and they all serve a specific purpose:

Bahá’u’lláh compared the world to the human body. There is, indeed, no other model in phenomenal existence to which we can reasonably look. Human society is composed not of a mass of merely differentiated cells but of associations of individuals, each one of whom is endowed with intelligence and will; nevertheless, the modes of operation that characterize man’s biological nature illustrate fundamental principles of existence. Chief among these is that of unity in diversity. Paradoxically, it is precisely the wholeness and complexity of the order constituting the human body — and the perfect integration into it of the body’s cells — that permit the full realization of the distinctive capacities inherent in each of these component elements. No cell lives apart from the body, whether in contributing to its functioning or in deriving its share from the well-being of the whole.  (Baha’i International Community, 1995 Mar 03, The Prosperity of Humankind)

In the Hidden Words, Baha’u’llah tells us we need to be even as one soul:

Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory.  (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 68)

He’s asking us to put ourselves in another person’s life, understand reality from their perspective and walk with them.

We are all connected through the perfect wisdom of God, whether our body and mind fits the “norm” or not:

The beings, whether great or small, are connected with one another by the perfect wisdom of God, and affect and influence one another. If it were not so, in the universal system and the general arrangement of existence, there would be disorder and imperfection. But as beings are connected one with another with the greatest strength, they are in order in their places and perfect.  This subject is worthy of examination.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 246)

We are all interconnected and influence each other:

. . . the human body, all the members of which are connected and linked with one another with the greatest strength. How much the organs, the members and the parts of the body of man are intermingled and connected for mutual aid and help, and how much they influence one another!  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 244)

God has placed a crown on everyone’s head:

Bahá’u’lláh taught the Oneness of humanity; that is to say, all the children of men are under the mercy of the Great God. They are the sons of one God; they are trained by God. He has placed the crown of humanity on the head of every one of the servants of God. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 28)

Just because we are all one, doesn’t mean that we are all the same!  Far from it!

Oneness, of course, should not be confused with sameness, which is a tedious, artificial thing, entirely alien to a world where no two grains of wheat have ever been alike. (Marzieh Gail, Dawn Over Mount Hira, p. 125)

Unity in Diversity

This is not just a faith of oneness, but a faith of unity in diversity too.  We need diversity.

Diversity adds to the beauty:

Consider the flowers of a garden. Though differing in kind, color, form and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm and addeth unto their beauty. How unpleasing to the eye if all the flowers and plants, the leaves and blossoms, the fruit, the branches and the trees of that garden were all of the same shape and color! Diversity of hues, form and shape enricheth and adorneth the garden, and heighteneth the effect thereof. In like manner, when divers shades of thought, temperament and character, are brought together under the power and influence of one central agency, the beauty and glory of human perfection will be revealed and made manifest.  (‘Abdul-Bahá, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 41)

Diversity should be the cause of love and harmony:

The diversity in the human family should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord.   (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Advent of Divine Justice, p.32)

We need to work ceaselessly to develop a global consciousness based on unity in diversity, justice, love and service:

The Bahá’í world will work ceaselessly to develop in all its members – children, youth and adults – a . . . global consciousness based on the spiritual principles of unity in diversity, justice, love and service.  (The Baha’i International Community, 1995 Apr 06, Conservation and Sustainable Development in the Baha’i Faith)

This includes education for all members of the community and immediate assimilation:

A unique administrative system, rooted in the concept of unity in diversity, both insists on education for all members of the community and allows for the immediate assimilation of all those who in the past have been deprived of their rights.  (Baha’i International Community, 1993 Apr 05, Equality of Men & Women A New Reality)

The details of educational programs and activities aimed at promoting social integration will vary a great deal from the local to the national and international levels. However, in our increasingly interdependent world, all programs and initiatives must have certain aspects in common.  (Baha’i International Community, 1994 Aug 23, Role of Education, Media Arts in Social Development)

We need to focus on people’s good qualities, and not on their shortcomings:

If a man has ten good qualities and one bad one, to look at the ten and forget the one; and if a man has ten bad qualities and one good one, to look at the one and forget the ten.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, quoted in Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 83)

‘Abdu’l-Baha agrees, as this story illustrates:

One day, Abdul-Bahá a group of friends were under a grove of trees near Lake Michigan and He said: “Some of you may have observed that I have not called attention to any of your individual shortcomings.  I would suggest to you, that if you shall be similarly considerate in your treatment of each other, it will be greatly conducive to the harmony of your association with each other.  (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 117)

Justice

Finally, this is a Faith of justice.

If we truly want to be just, we need to choose for others what we want for ourselves:

And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself.  (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 29)

Baha’u’llah tells us that justice is “the best beloved of all things” and if we want to be close to Him we can’t neglect it:

The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee.   (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 2)

We achieve justice through seeing with our own eyes and knowing through our own knowledge:

By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.  (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 2)

It means letting go of the traditions of the past, and seeing things through God’s eyes:

If Thou wishest a discerning eye and seekest for a hearing ear, set thou aside that which thou hast heard from fathers and ancestors, for such things are imitation — and then seek for the truth with the utmost attention until the divine confirmation may reach thee and the matter may be properly disclosed unto thee.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i World Faith, p. 387)

It means freeing ourselves from idle fancy and copying what others do and seeing everyone with the eyes of oneness:

The essence of all that We have revealed for thee is Justice, is for man to free himself from idle fancy and imitation, discern with the eye of oneness His glorious handiwork, and look into all things with a searching eye.  (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 157)

Sometimes in our Baha’i communities, those fighting for inclusion are told to forgive and let go of their own wants and needs, but the life of mankind depends on justice and not on forgiveness:

The canopy of existence . . . resteth upon the pole of justice, and not of forgiveness, and the life of mankind dependeth on justice and not on forgiveness.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 28)

As forgiveness is one of the attributes of the Merciful One, so also justice is one of the attributes of the Lord. The tent of existence is upheld upon the pillar of justice, and not upon forgiveness.  The continuance of mankind depends upon justice and not upon forgiveness.  (‘Abdul-Bahá, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 37)

This is the work of everyone:

Each man has been placed in a post of honour, which he must not desert. A humble workman who commits an injustice is as much to blame as a renowned tyrant. Thus we all have our choice between justice and injustice.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 159)

Justice is not limited, it is a universal quality. Its operation must be carried out in all classes, from the highest to the lowest. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 159-160)

And the communities also have an important role in protecting the rights of everyone:

Then what Christ meant by forgiveness and pardon is not that, when nations attack you, burn your homes, plunder your goods, assault your wives, children, and relatives, and violate your honour, you should be submissive in the presence of these tyrannical foes, and allow them to perform all their cruelties and oppressions. No, the words of Christ refer to the conduct of two individuals towards each other: if one person assaults another, the injured one should forgive him. But the communities must protect the rights of man.   (‘Abdul-Bahá, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 37-38)

How do we get there?

How do we “walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth” without listening, and using the powers of our imagination to understand life from their perspective?

First we have to get rid of our egos; our attachment to wanting everything to be the way we want it to be.

Ali Nakhjavani tells a great story about how the ego gets in the way of us becoming one:

I was asked to say a few words to the dear South African believers who are here today. I thought I could tell you about a tablet, a very short tablet, revealed by Abdu’l-Bahá. The contents of this Tablet are as follows: the Master says the relationships of the believers to the Cause of God are of two kinds. One kind is like the relationship of the flower to the garden. The other relationship is that of the ray of the sun to the sun. “I hope”, Master says, “that your relationship will be of the second kind”. And that is the end of the Tablet!

Now, I have been thinking about this Tablet, and I have been wondering why Abdu’l-Bahá says that he prefers the second kind to the first kind. There is nothing wrong in being a flower in the garden of Baha’u’llah. In fact, we have prayers, “O God, make me a flower in Thy garden”. Why is it that Abdu’l-Bahá prefers the other type, which is the ray of the sun? The sun is the Cause of God, and the ray emanates from it. So I am offering my views, my humble views, about this beautiful, simple tablet of Abdu’l-Bahá.

I thought like this, I said, OK, we have a flower in a garden, the flower says, “I like this garden”, in other words, we say, we like the Cause. “I like this garden, I grow in this garden, I am proud of my garden, I am named after this garden”. (I am a Baha’i) OK, this is all good. We take the ray of the sun. The ray says exactly all these things, he says, “I am from the sun, I am proud of the sun, I depend everything, all my life on the sun,” etc, etc, exactly the same thing. But, if you bring one ray and you bring a second ray, what happens? The two rays become one. But if you bring one flower and you bring another flower, they remain two flowers.

If on an Assembly or a Baha’i committee, you bring nine rays and bring them together, they become one strong united ray. But if you bring nine flowers and bring them together, they are a beautiful bouquet, a beautiful flower arrangement, but they are nine different flowers, and everyone, if we credit the flower with some thinking, some intelligence and some ego, the flower will say, “Really, I don’t want to say, but I think I’m better than the others. I think I’m more beautiful, I think I have a more beautiful scent. I don’t want to talk about it, but… never mind…” This is what the flower will do. Why, because of the ego. The ego is inside. And believe me, this animal ego is in all of us. If we have 20 people in this room, there are 20 egos, no exception. And this ego will be with us till the very last breath. When we go to the next world, we separate, we say goodbye. But until that day, it is with us, it suggests things to us, it deviates us from the right path, because that is the animal in us, it wants everything for itself.

OK, let’s go to the ray now. The ray says, “I have no name, it doesn’t matter. I don’t have colour, it doesn’t matter. I am from the sun. My job is to be faithful and to carry the light of the sun, the heat of the sun. That is my duty. And I am doing it.” It is so pure that if you take a chair, and you go outside where there is the sun, you say, “I am sitting in the sun.” Ha! You are not sitting in the sun. The sun is up there! But the ray is so faithful, so pure, that it carries all the qualities of the sun, in a pure way, so much so that you say I am sitting in the sun.

Now, another difference is that the flower is on the receiving end.” Soil, give me good soil, water, give me good water, light and sun, I want more light.” It’s all the time receiving. “Give me.” What does the ray do? It doesn’t want anything, the ray gives, it helps the flowers to grow. Big difference between the two!!  So, that is why I think Abdu’l-Bahá says, “It’s good to be a flower in the garden, but better still is to be a ray of the sun. This is my first choice for you, this is what I prefer you to be. To be a ray from the sun, so that you give to others, you are a way of helping others. You are not thinking of yourself. You are thinking of others, to assist others all the time, to give the light, to give the heat, the warmth.”  (Ali Nakhjavani, Pilgrim’s Notes)

Here are some other ideas to consider:

Those who are born into this world and face excessive difficulty are worthy of our sympathy:

As to the souls who are born into this world radiant entities and who through excessive difficulty are deprived of great benefits and thus leave the world — they are worthy of all sympathy, for in reality this is worthy of regret.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v3, p. 542)

We need to see the honor and nobility in every human being:

Only if you perceive honour and nobility in every human being—this independent of wealth or poverty—will you be able to champion the cause of justice. (Universal House of Justice, Ridván Message 2008, paragraph 8)

We need to want for others what we want for ourselves:

Justice must be sacred, and the rights of all the people must be considered. Desire for others only that which you desire for yourselves. Then shall we rejoice in the Sun of Justice, which shines from the Horizon of God. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 159-160)

We need to treat everyone with compassion:

The Kingdom of God is founded upon equity and justice, and also upon mercy, compassion, and kindness to every living soul. Strive ye then with all your heart to treat compassionately all humankind.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 158)

We need to abandon all sense of superiority:

The recognition of the oneness of mankind would require the abandonment of all doctrines of superiority, many of which still persist implicitly. (Baha’i International Community, 1989 Feb 08, Eliminating Racism)

We need love and affection for everyone:

Above and beyond all this, a great love and fountain of affection shall bind and blend these two remote peoples . . . The world of humanity has been expressed by Him as a unit — as one family.   (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 36)

We need to be kind to everyone:

 He is kind to all; why should we be unkind? All live beneath the shadow of His love; why should we hate each other?  (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 169)

We need to uplift the cause of unity by becoming one heart:

You must become of one heart, one spirit and one susceptibility. May you become as the waves of one sea, stars of the same heaven, fruits adorning the same tree, roses of one garden in order that through you the oneness of humanity may establish its temple in the world of mankind, for you are the ones who are called to uplift the cause of unity among the nations of the earth.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 214-215)

We need to become united and agreed among ourselves:

First, you must become united and agreed among yourselves.   (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 214-215)

We need to be Willing to forfeit our lives in the pathway of other people’s happiness:

You must be exceedingly kind and loving toward each other, willing to forfeit life in the pathway of another’s happiness.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 214-215)

We need to be ready to sacrifice our possessions for others:

You must be ready to sacrifice your possessions in another’s behalf. The rich among you must show compassion toward the poor, and the well-to-do must look after those in distress. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 214-215)

We need to be the servant of others

Your utmost desire must be to confer happiness upon each other. Each one must be the servant of the others, thoughtful of their comfort and welfare.(Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 214-215)

We need to entirely forget ourselves:

In the path of God one must forget himself entirely.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 214-215)

We need to seek the good pleasure of others:

He must not consider his own pleasure but seek the pleasure of others. He must not desire glory nor gifts of bounty for himself but seek these gifts and blessings for his brothers and sisters.   (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 214-215)

We need to offer ourselves as sacrifices:

It is my hope that you may become like this, that you may attain to the supreme bestowal and be imbued with such spiritual qualities as to forget yourselves entirely and with heart and soul offer yourselves as sacrifices for the Blessed Perfection.   (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 214-215)

We need more fellowship and love:

He said that man must recognize the oneness of humanity, for all in origin belong to the same household and all are servants of the same God. Therefore mankind must continue in the state of fellowship and love, emulating the institutions of God and turning away from satanic promptings, for the divine bestowals bring forth unity and agreement whereas satanic leadings induce hatred and war.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 233)

We need to reject deeply ingrained prejudices:

That humanity constitutes a single people is a truth that, once viewed with skepticism, claims widespread acceptance today.  The rejection of deeply ingrained prejudices and a growing sense of world citizenship are among the signs of this heightened awareness.  (Universal House of Justice, To the Baha’is of Iran, 2 March 2013)

We need to subordinate our impulses and interests:

It calls for a wider loyalty, for a larger aspiration than any that has animated the human race. It insists upon the subordination of national impulses and interests to the imperative claims of a unified world.  (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 41-42)

We need to respect the rights of everyone:

To preserve and honor diversity without making differences a cause for conflict requires a new way of thinking, based on respect for the rights of every individual. This new way of thinking, characterized some years ago as a “culture of human rights,” must be developed and supported by human rights education.  (Baha’i International Community, 1995 Aug 07, Prevention of Discrimination Protection of Minorities)

We need to reconceptualize the relationships that sustain society:

For the principle of the oneness of humankind, as proclaimed by Baha’u’llah, asks not merely for cooperation among people and nations.  It calls for a complete reconceptualization of the relationships that sustain society.   (Universal House of Justice, To the Baha’is of Iran, 2 March 2013)

Long-term solutions will require a new and comprehensive vision of a global society, supported by new values. (Baha’i International Community, 1991 Aug 13, International Legislation for Environment Development)

We need to let go of the need for uniformity: It is inconsistent not only with any attempt to impose uniformity, but with any tendency towards excessive centralization.   (Baha’i International Community, 1991 Aug 13, International Legislation for Environment Development)

We need to address inequities directed to ourselves and others, through lawful means:

Wherever they reside, Baha’is endeavour to uphold the standard of justice, addressing inequities directed towards themselves or towards others, but only through lawful means available to them, eschewing all forms of violent protest.   (Universal House of Justice, To the Baha’is of Iran, 2 March 2013)

How Do We Help Others Get There?

Education, Training and Healing:

There are certain people who are ignorant; they must be educated. Some are like children; they must be trained and educated until they reach maturity. Others are sickly, intellectually ill, spiritually ill; they must be treated and healed. But all are the servants of God.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 169)

By starting with education, numerous possibilities for policies, goals and programs emerge:

The first example of a spiritually based indicator explores the application of the principle of unity in diversity to educational policy. Beginning with a vision of development that accepts both the possibility and the necessity of a united and peaceful world, unity in diversity is identified as a spiritual principle essential to the realization of that future. A policy area is then chosen: in this case, education. By considering the principle of unity in diversity in education, numerous possibilities for policies, goals and programs emerge, several of which might be pursued.  (Baha’i International Community, 1998 Feb 18, Valuing Spirituality in Development)

Sometimes we need to sacrifice for others, in order to advance the whole, as this story illustrates:

One day as I was standing near the border of a little stream on Mt. Carmel, I noticed a number of locusts that had not yet developed full wings.  These insects wishing to pass from my side of the stream to the other in order to procure some food, threw themselves forward, each one trying to emulate the other in flinging itself into the water, so that a bridge was formed in order that the others might pass over and this was accomplished; yet those who gave themselves as a bridge finally perished. Consider how much solidarity makes for life as compared to the fighting for self interest which destroys it.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Divine Philosophy, p. 187-188)

None of this comes easy!  Like everything in the Faith, it takes courage to cling to these standards and demonstrate them to others:

To discharge your responsibilities, you will have to show forth courage, the courage of those who cling to standards of rectitude, whose lives are characterized by purity of thought and action, and whose purpose is directed by love and indomitable faith.   (The Universal House of Justice, message to the Paraguay Youth Congress, 2000)

Consequences of not being Inclusive

What happens when we are not inclusive?

Everyone Suffers

Regard how numerous are the parts and members of the human organism, but the oneness of the spirit animating it keeps its various parts and elements together in perfect co-ordination and solidarity. It brings such a unity into the organism that were each member to be subjected to any injury or were it to become diseased, all the other members would sympathetically suffer, due to the existence of their perfect unity.  (Baha’i Scriptures, p. 280)

The consequences of failing to respond appropriately will be disastrous:

The unifying, salutary effects of applying this principle to the redesign and development of communities the world over, would be incalculable, while the consequences of failing to respond appropriately to the challenges of an ever-contracting world will surely prove disastrous.  (Baha’i International Community, 1996 Jun 07, Sustainable Communities in an Integrating World)

If we do not treat others with justice, God will not forgive us:

Withdraw your hands from tyranny, for I have pledged Myself not to forgive any man’s injustice. This is My covenant which I have irrevocably decreed in the preserved tablet and sealed with My seal.  (Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words, Persian 64)

Benefits of Including Everyone

Learning to appreciate diversity of all sorts includes the following benefits:

We all prosper and grow:

Unity in diversity is at once a vision for the future and a principle to guide the world community in its response to these challenges. Not only must this principle come to animate relations among the nations of the planet, but it must also be applied within both local and national communities if they are to prosper and endure.  (Baha’i International Community, 1996 Jun 07, Sustainable Communities in an Integrating World)

Misunderstandings will be removed and happiness guaranteed:

In proportion to the acknowledgment of the oneness and solidarity of mankind, fellowship is possible, misunderstandings will be removed and reality become apparent. Then will the light of reality shine forth, and when reality illumines the world, the happiness of humankind will become a verity.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 327-328)

We will vindicate the truth that humanity is one

By the rectitude of their conduct, the sincerity of their love for their fellow human beings, and the ardour of their desire to serve the peoples of the world, may they vindicate the truth proclaimed by Baha’u’llah that humanity is one. (Universal House of Justice, 20 October 2008, to the Bahá’ís of the World)

It’s a sign that we’ve entered the age of maturity:

As you know from your study of the Baha’i writings, the principle that is to infuse all facets of organized life on the planet is the oneness of humankind, the hallmark of the age of maturity.  (Universal House of Justice, To the Baha’is of Iran, 2 March 2013)

We will help raise civilization to a new level:

More importantly, by establishing the foundation for true co-operation, the recognition of this principle would raise civilization to a new level.   (Baha’i International Community, 1989 Feb 08, Eliminating Racism)

We’ll be able to share power and responsibility without fear:

At this higher level, no one need fear oppression, even those who were formerly oppressors. The sharing of power and responsibility among all citizens can then be implemented without fear, through appropriate legal measures and equitable social and economic policies.  (Baha’i International Community, 1989 Feb 08, Eliminating Racism)

We’ll be able to offer the entire world a model of unity in diversity:

You should strive to create a Bahá’í community which will offer to the entire world a vibrant model of unity in diversity.  (The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 153, 1996 – North America)

We will learn to cherish people’s temperaments and talents, experiences and viewpoints, understanding that they contribute to the progress and well-being of society:

Unity in diversity stands in contrast to uniformity. It cherishes the natural diversity of temperament and talents among individuals as well as humanity’s variegated experiences, cultures and viewpoints, inasmuch as they contribute to the human family’s progress and well-being.   (Baha’i International Community, 1998 Feb 18, Valuing Spirituality in Development)

We will become invincible champions of justice:

As you dedicate yourselves to healing the wounds with which your peoples have been afflicted, you will become invincible champions of justice.  (The Universal House of Justice, message to the Paraguay Youth Congress, 2000)

Prayers

Here are some prayers we can say, for our communities to become more inclusive:

O my God! O my God! Verily, these are servants at the threshold of Thy mercy, and maidservants at the door of Thy oneness. Verily, they have gathered in this temple to turn to Thy face of glory, holding to the hem of Thy garment and to Thy singleness, seeking Thy good pleasure and ascent into Thy Kingdom. They receive effulgence from the Sun of Reality in this glorious century, and they long for Thy goodwill in all great affairs. O Lord! Illumine their sight with a vision of Thy signs and riches, and quicken their ears with hearkening to Thy Word. Render their hearts replete with Thy love, and gladden their spirits with Thy meeting. Deign to bestow upon them spiritual good in Thine earth and heaven, and make them signs of unity among Thy servants in order that the real unity may appear and all may become one in Thy Cause and Kingdom. Verily, Thou art the Generous. Verily, Thou art the Mighty, the Spiritual. Thou art the Merciful, the Clement.  (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 193)

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Bring them together again, O Lord, by the Power of Thy Covenant, and gather their dispersion by the Might of Thy Promise, and unite their hearts by the dominion of Thy Love! Cause them to love one another so as to sacrifice their spirits, expend their money and give up their desires for each other’s sake!  O Lord, make to descend upon them quietness and tranquillity! Shower upon them the clouds of Thy Mercy in full abundance, and make them to characterize themselves with the characteristics of the spiritual!  O Lord, hold us firm in Thy noble command, and bestow upon us Thy Gifts through Thy bounty, grace and beneficence!  Verily, Thou art the Generous, the Merciful, and the Benevolent.  (Baha’i Scriptures, p. 263)

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O my God! O my God! Unite the hearts of Thy servants, and reveal to them Thy great purpose. May they follow Thy commandments and abide in Thy law. Help them, O God, in their endeavor, and grant them strength to serve Thee. O God! Leave them not to themselves, but guide their steps by the light of Thy knowledge, and cheer their hearts by Thy love. Verily, Thou art their Helper and their Lord. (Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 203)

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O my God! O my God! Verily, I invoke Thee and supplicate before Thy threshold, asking Thee that all Thy mercies may descend upon these souls. Specialize them for Thy favor and Thy truth.

O Lord! Unite and bind together the hearts, join in accord all the souls, and exhilarate the spirits through the signs of Thy sanctity and oneness. O Lord! Make these faces radiant through the light of Thy oneness. Strengthen the loins of Thy servants in the service of Thy kingdom.

O Lord, Thou possessor of infinite mercy! O Lord of forgiveness and pardon! Forgive our sins, pardon our shortcomings, and cause us to turn to the kingdom of Thy clemency, invoking the kingdom of might and power, humble at Thy shrine and submissive before the glory of Thine evidences.

O Lord God! Make us as waves of the sea, as flowers of the garden, united, agreed through the bounties of Thy love. O Lord! Dilate the breasts through the signs of Thy oneness, and make all mankind as stars shining from the same height of glory, as perfect fruits growing upon Thy tree of life.

Verily, Thou art the Almighty, the Self-Subsistent, the Giver, the Forgiving, the Pardoner, the Omniscient, the One Creator.   (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Prayers, p. 203-205)

Conclusion

For those who are battling for the right to be included in the Baha’i community, know that your efforts, no matter how miniscule, can uphold the standard:

Humanity is weary for want ofa pattern of life to which to aspire.  A single soul can uphold a standard far above the low threshold by which the world measures itself.  (Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message 2012)

The actions you take today are the first step in a process that will take decades and centuries to unfold:

Yet, however promising the rise in collective consciousness may be, it should be seen as only the first step of a process that will take decades–nay, centuries–to unfold.  (Universal House of Justice, To the Baha’is of Iran, 2 March 2013)

I’d like to leave you with the two most uplifting sentences ever written:

Have hope. It will not always be so. (Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message 2015)

There will be a time when every Baha’i community welcomes those who are “different”.

What’s been your experience with inclusive Baha’i communities?  Post your comments below!

Understanding Our Tests at the Hands of Other Baha’is

 

‘Abdu’l-Baha warned us that the worst enemies of the Cause are in the Cause:

The worst enemies of the Cause are in the Cause and mention the name of God. We need not fear the enemies on the outside for such can be easily dealt with. But the enemies who call themselves friends and who persistently violate every fundamental law of love and unity, are difficult to be dealt with in this day, for the mercy of God is still great. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of The West, Vol.6, No.6, p.45)

And that the enemies who call themselves friends, yet persistently violate every fundamental law of love and unity, are difficult to deal with in this day:

We need not fear the enemies on the outside for such can be easily dealt with. But the enemies who call themselves friends and who persistently violate every fundamental law of love and unity, are difficult to be dealt with in this day, for the mercy of God is still great. But ere long this merciful door will be closed and such enemies will be attacked with a madness. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of The West, Vol.6, No.6, p.45)

Shoghi Effendi warned us that one of the greatest problems in the Cause is the relation of the believers to each other:

One of the greatest problems in the Cause is the relation of the believers to each other; for their immaturity (shared with the rest of humanity) and imperfections retard the work, create complications, and discourage each other. (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 449)

He also said that often our severest tests come from each other:

. . . often our severest tests come from each other. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)

But what do we do when the Baha’is turn against us? Let’s take a look at what the Baha’i Writings have to tell us!

The Problem with Others

A person may believe in and love the Cause – even being ready to die for it — and yet not have a good personal character or he may even possess traits at variance with the teaching:

There is a difference between character and faith; it is often hard to accept this fact and put up with it, but the fact that a person may believe in and love the Cause – even being ready to die for it — and yet not have a good personal character or posses traits at variance with the teachings. We try to change, to let the Power of God help recreate us make us true Bahá’ís in deed as well as in belief. But the process is slow, sometimes it never happened the individual does not try hard enough. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 75)

This causes us suffering and is a test for us especially if we love him and have been their teacher:

But these cause us suffering and are a test to us in our fellow-believers, most especially if we love him and have been their teacher! (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 75)

Nine-tenths of the friends’ troubles are because they don’t do the Bahá’í thing:

Generally speaking nine-tenths of the friends’ troubles are because they don’t do the Bahá’í thing, in relation to each other, to the administrative bodies or in their personal lives. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 114)

People have become veils unto themselves, and we entreat God to assist them to return to Him:

The Cause is manifest, it shineth resplendent as the sun, but the people have become veils unto themselves. We entreat God that He may graciously assist them to return unto Him. He is, in truth, the Forgiving, the Merciful. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 79)

How God Sees Them

Those who have perpetrated against us are even as the dead:

Truly they are even as dead, and not living. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 15)

Their immaturity and imperfections retard the work, create complications, and discourage others:

. . . their immaturity (shared with the rest of humanity) and imperfections retard the work, create complications, and discourage each other. (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 449)

What’s Expected of Us

We must not let the things others have perpetrated grieve us:

Let not the things they have perpetrated grieve thee. Truly they are even as dead, and not living. Leave them unto the dead, then turn thy face towards Him Who is the Life-Giver of the world. Beware lest the sayings of the heedless sadden thee. Be thou steadfast in the Cause, and teach the people with consummate wisdom. Thus enjoineth thee the Ruler of earth and heaven. He is in truth the Almighty, the Most Generous. Ere long will God exalt thy remembrance and will inscribe with the Pen of Glory that which thou didst utter for the sake of His love. He is in truth the Protector of the doers of good. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 15)

We must leave them with the dead, and turn our faces towards God:

Leave them unto the dead, then turn thy face towards Him Who is the Life-Giver of the world. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 15)

We must not let the sayings of the heedless ones sadden us.

Beware lest the sayings of the heedless sadden thee. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 15)

We must be steadfast in the Cause, and teach people with consummate wisdom:

Beware lest the sayings of the heedless sadden thee. Be thou steadfast in the Cause, and teach the people with consummate wisdom. Thus enjoineth thee the Ruler of earth and heaven. He is in truth the Almighty, the Most Generous. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 15)

We must demonstrate the Bahá’í pattern of life and love and encourage them to do the same:

When others fall short of the standards of a Bahá’í way of life, we can demonstrate the Bahá’í pattern of life and love and encourage them to do the same, while taking refuge in the knowledge that this process takes time. (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 120)

We must try to avert such things, and if they happen, remedy them through love:

Certainly the believers should try to avert such things, and if they happen, remedy them through love.   (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)

We must put up with these things and try to combat them through love, patience and forgiveness individually, and proper administrative action collectively:

And yet we must put up with these things and try and combat them through love, patience and forgiveness individually, and proper administrative action collectively. (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 449)

We must use the violent forces released by sincere but misguided friends, as a positive stream of power by turning them into productive channels instead of destructive ones:

We Bahá’ís can always, with the aid of Bahá’u’lláh, Who, is ever ready to strengthen and assist us, turn our stumbling blocks into stepping stones, and utilize the often violent forces released by sincere but perhaps misguided friends, as a positive stream of power by turning them into productive channels instead of destructive ones. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 602-603)

 Promises

God is the Protector of the doers of good, and before long He will exalt our remembrance:

Ere long will God exalt thy remembrance and will inscribe with the Pen of Glory that which thou didst utter for the sake of His love. He is in truth the Protector of the doers of good. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 15)

Though these shortcomings may slow the progress of the Faith they will not ultimately defeat it:

Though these shortcomings may slow the progress of the Faith they will not ultimately defeat it.   (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 120)

The energy we expend in enduring the intolerance of some individuals of our community is not lost. It is transformed into fortitude, steadfastness and magnanimity:

The energy we expend in enduring the intolerance of some individuals of our community is not lost. It is transformed into fortitude, steadfastness and magnanimity. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 603)

Punishment

God has pledged not to forgive any man’s injustice:

O OPPRESSORS ON EARTH!

Withdraw your hands from tyranny, for I have pledged Myself not to forgive any man’s injustice. This is My covenant which I have irrevocably decreed in the preserved tablet and sealed with My seal. (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 64)

Before long such enemies will be attacked with madness:

But ere long this merciful door will be closed and such enemies will be attacked with a madness. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of The West, Vol.6, No.6, p.45)

Tests Involving Institutions

The Cause is still in its infancy and its institutions are not yet functioning perfectly:

The friends must be patient with each other and must realize that the Cause is still in its infancy and its institutions are not yet functioning perfectly. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 9)

In some cases, the friends and the Assemblies are struggling with issues on the fron­tier of their spiritual growth:

As you know, there can be many reasons for Assemblies not to respond to the believers. Undoubtedly, in some cases, it is because the friends and the Assemblies are struggling with issues on the fron­tier of their spiritual growth. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)

Such a process can lead to tremendous development on both the individual and the collective levels:

Such a process can lead to tremendous development on both the individual and the collective levels. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)

Tak­ing part in this process should be a source of joy since we are helping to build the kingdom of God on Earth:

Tak­ing part in this process should be a source of joy to us since we are, in effect, helping to build the kingdom of God on Earth. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)

 What’s Expected of Us

We must be patient with each other

The friends must be patient with each other and must realize that the Cause is still in its infancy and its institutions are not yet functioning perfectly. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 9)

We must be patient, loving, understanding and forbearing:

The greater the patience, the loving understanding and the forbearance the believers show towards each other and their shortcomings, the greater will be the progress of the whole Bahá’í community at large.         (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 9)

We must realize our own imperfections and don’t permit ourselves to get too upset:

We must realize our imperfection and not permit ourselves to get too upset over the unfortunate things which occur, sometimes in  Conventions, sometimes in Assemblies or on Committees, etc. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 9)

We must understand that such things are essentially superficial and in time will be outgrown:

Such things are essentially superficial and in time will be outgrown. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 9)

We must realize that whatever the nature of the obstacles, they will be eventually overcome:

You have complained of the unsatisfactory conditions prevailing in the … Bahá’í Community; the Guardian is well aware of the situation of the Cause there, but is confident that whatever the nature of the obstacles that confront the Faith they will be eventually overcome. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 9)

We must not feel discouraged or waver in our faith or loyalty to the Cause:

You should, under no circumstances, feel discouraged, and allow such difficulties, even though they may have resulted from the misconduct, or the lack of capacity and vision of certain members of the Community, to make you waver in your faith and basic loyalty to the Cause. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 9)

We must not look at others, no matter how qualified they may be, or however high their intellectual and spiritual merits, as a standard whereby to evaluate and measure the divine authority and mission of the Faith:

Surely, the believers, no matter how qualified they may be, whether as teachers or administrators, and however high their intellectual and spiritual merits, should never be looked upon as a standard whereby to evaluate and measure the divine authority and mission of the Faith. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 9)

We must keep looking to the Teachings themselves, and to the lives of the Founders of the Cause for our guidance and inspiration:

It is to the Teachings themselves, and to the lives of the Founders of the Cause that the believers should look for their guidance and inspiration, and only by keeping strictly to such [a] true attitude can they hope to establish their loyalty to Bahá’u’lláh upon an enduring and unassailable basis. You should take heart, therefore, and with unrelaxing vigilance and unremitting effort endeavour to play your full share in the gradual unfoldment of this Divine World Order. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 9)

We must maintain our confidence that the divinely ordained administrative system given to us by Bahá’u’lláh, and the inspiration of the Creative Word, will enable us to rise to these challenges:

We must maintain our confidence that the divinely ordained administrative system given to us by Bahá’u’lláh, and the inspiration of the Creative Word, will enable us to rise to these challenges. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)

Sometimes we can facilitate this process of spiritual growth by viewing these situations as opportunities for development:

Sometimes we can facilitate this process of spiritual growth for individuals, and of maturation for Local and National Assemblies, by viewing these situations not as a problem but as opportunities for development. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)

Patience is needed, particularly when it involves a subject that is close to our hearts; when it seems that progress is lagging or has ceased entirely:

Nevertheless, patience is needed, particularly when it involves a subject that is close to our hearts, and when it seems that progress on the matter is lagging or has ceased entirely. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)

How has this helped you understand your tests with other Baha’is? Post your comments below!

The Role of Fathers in a Bahá’í Family

 

As Father’s Day approaches, I thought I’d take a look at the father’s role in the Baha’i family and see what the Baha’i Writings have to teach us about it.  Let’s have a look! 

Choose Your Wife Wisely!

If the mother is not a believer, the children are deprived of faith, even if the father be a believer convinced and firm:

Consider that if the mother is a believer, the children will become believers too, even if the father denieth the Faith; while, if the mother is not a believer, the children are deprived of faith, even if the father be a believer convinced and firm. Such is the usual outcome, except in rare cases.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 287)

Love

Fathers love, pray for, care for, educate and provide for their children, even when his time to be with his child is limited:

This does not mean that the father does not also love, pray for, and care for his baby, but as he has the primary responsibility of providing for the family, his time to be with his child is usually limited.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 626)

Equality

In this Revelation, the women go neck and neck with the men:

`Abdu’l-Bahá has stated:  In this Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, the women go neck and neck with the men. In no movement will they be left behind. Their rights with men are equal in degree. They will enter all the administrative branches of politics. They will attain in all such a degree as will be considered the very highest station of the world of humanity and will take part in all affairs.  and again:  So it will come to pass that when women participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world, when they enter confidently and capably the great arena of laws and politics, war will cease;…  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 230)

Equality of status does not mean identity of function:

That the first teacher of the child is the mother should not be startling, for the primary orientation of the infant is to its mother. This provision of nature in no way minimizes the role of the father in the Bahá’í family. Again, equality of status does not mean identity of function.  (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 383)

The concept of a Bahá’í family is based on the principle that the man has primary responsibility for the financial support of the family, and the woman is the chief and primary educator of the children:

The concept of a Bahá’í family is based on the principle that the man has primary responsibility for the financial support of the family, and the woman is the chief and primary educator of the children. This by no means implies that these functions are inflexibly fixed and cannot be changed and adjusted to suit particular family situations, nor does it mean that the place of the woman is confined to the home. Rather, while primary responsibility is assigned, it is anticipated that fathers would play a significant role in the education of the children and women could also be breadwinners. As you rightly indicated, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá encouraged women to ‘participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world’.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 626)

The mother has a right to be supported by her husband:

A corollary of this responsibility of the mother is her right to be supported by her husband — a husband has no explicit right to be supported by his wife. This principle of the husband’s responsibility to provide for and protect the family can be seen applied also in the law of intestacy which provides that the family’s dwelling place passes, on the father’s death, not to his widow, but to his eldest son; the son at the same time has the responsibility to care for his mother.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1980 Dec 28, The Relationship Between Husband and Wife) 

Active Role

It is highly important for man to raise a family:

It is highly important for man to raise a family. So long as he is young, because of youthful self-complacency, he does not realize its significance, but this will be a source of regret when he grows old.   (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 219)

The father’s role changes as the child grows older and more independent:

The great importance attached to the mother’s role derives from the fact that she is the first educator of the child  . . . This does not mean that the father does not also love, pray for, and care for his baby, but as he has the primary responsibility of providing for the family, his time to be with his child is usually limited. . .  As the child grows older and more independent, the relative nature of its relationship with its mother and father modifies and the father can play a greater role.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 626)

 Education of Children

The father should, above all else, continually call to his mind the remembrance of God:

The father must always endeavour to educate his son and to acquaint him with the heavenly teachings. He must give him advice and exhort him at all times, teach him praiseworthy conduct and character, enable him to receive training at school and to be instructed in such arts and sciences as are deemed useful and necessary. In brief, let him instil into his mind the virtues and perfections of the world of humanity. Above all he should continually call to his mind the remembrance of God so that his throbbing veins and arteries may pulsate with the love of God.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 229)

Men should hand over a portion of what he earns in his occupation, for the training and education of children:

In the Tablet of the World, Bahá’u’lláh Himself has envisaged that women as well as men would be breadwinners in stating:  ‘Everyone, whether man or woman, should hand over to a trusted person a portion of what he or she earneth through trade, agriculture or other occupation, for the training and education of children, to be spent for this purpose with the knowledge of the Trustees of the House of Justice.'”   (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 225)

Unto every father hath been enjoined the instruction of his son and daughter in the art of reading and writing:

Unto every father hath been enjoined the instruction of his son and daughter in the art of reading and writing and in all that hath been laid down in the Holy Tablet. He that putteth away that which is commanded unto him, the Trustees are then to take from him that which is required for their instruction, if he be wealthy, and if not the matter devolveth upon the House of Justice. Verily, have We made it a shelter for the poor and needy. He that bringeth up his son or the son of another, it is as though he hath brought up a son of Mine; upon him rest My Glory, My loving kindness, My Mercy, that have compassed the world.  (Bahá’u’lláh, A Synopsis and Codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 15-16)

Every father must educate his children, both boys and girls, in the sciences and in morals, and in crafts and professions:

God hath prescribed unto every father to educate his children, both boys and girls, in the sciences and in morals, and in crafts and professions. Thus have We instructed you in Our Most Holy Book, revealed by Us from Our all-hallowed Realm. Well is it with him who cleaveth fast to this with a power from Our own Self; he verily is a man related to this Station.  Make ye an effort that there may issue forth from you that which befitteth the days of your God, the King before Whom all heads bow down.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 1)

The father must choose for his daughter the glory that never dies:

It is to be regretted, however, that her husband is still wrapped in the veils of his idle imaginings. If her dear daughter be trained according to the instructions of God, she will grow to be a peerless plant in the garden of the heart. It is incumbent upon the father to choose for his daughter the glory that dieth not. Nevertheless, this is up to him; he may educate her in any way he desireth.  (Abdu’l-Baha, The Rosenberg Tablet)

 Rights and Obligations

The father can be regarded as the “head” of the family:

The Research Department has not come across any statements which specifically name the father as responsible for the “security, progress and unity of the family: as is stated in Bahiyyih Nakhjavani’s book, but it can be inferred from a number of the responsibilities placed on him, that the father can be regarded as the “head” of the family. (The Universal House of Justice, 1980 Dec 28, The Relationship Between Husband and Wife)

To read the entire letter in context

The integrity of the family bond must be constantly considered, and the rights of the indi­vidual members must not be transgressed:

All the virtues must be taught the family. The integrity of the family bond must be constantly considered, and the rights of the indi­vidual members must not be transgressed. The rights of the son, the father, the mother — none of them must be transgressed, none of them must be arbitrary. Just as the son has certain obligations to his father, the father, likewise, has certain obligations to his son. The mother, the sister and other members of the household have their certain preroga­tives. All these rights and prerogatives must be conserved, yet the unity of the family must be sustained. The injury of one shall be considered the injury of all; the comfort of each, the comfort of all; the honor of one, the honor of all.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 168)

The husband should not unjustly dominate the wife:

Wives, in some cases, have a tendency to exert an unjust degree of domination over their husbands which, of course, is not right, anymore than that the husband should unjustly dominate the wife.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 225)

There are times when a husband should defer to his wife:

There are, therefore, times when a wife should defer to her husband, and times when a husband should defer to his wife, but neither should ever unjustly dominate the other. In short, the relationship between husband and wife should be as held forth in the prayer revealed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá which is often read at Bahá’í weddings: ‘Verily they are married in obedience to Thy command. Cause them to become the signs of harmony and unity until the end of time.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 225)

Consultation:

Consultation of a father with his son, or vice versa is one of the fundamental elements of the foundation of the Law of God:

Regarding thy question about consultation of a father with his son, or a son with his father, in matters of trade and commerce, consultation is one of the fundamental elements of the foundation of the Law of God. Such consultation is assuredly acceptable, whether between father and son, or with others. There is nothing better than this. Man must con­sult in all things for this will lead him to the depths of each problem and enable him to find the right solution.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 228)

Role of Sons

To serve their fathers:

Verily, We have enjoined on every son to serve his father. Such is the decree which We have set forth in the Book.  (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 138)

Show honour to your parents and pay homage to them:

Say, O My people! Show honour to your parents and pay homage to them. This will cause blessings to descend upon you from the clouds of the bounty of your Lord, the Exalted, the Great.  (Baha’u’llah, Lights of Guidance, p. 229)

Don’t do anything to sadden the hearts of your fathers and mothers:

Beware lest ye commit that which would sadden the hearts of your fathers and mothers. Follow ye the path of Truth which indeed is a straight path. Should anyone give you a choice between the opportunity to render a service to Me and a service to them, choose ye to serve them, and let such service be a path leading you to Me. This is My exhortation and command unto thee. Observe therefore that which thy Lord, the Mighty, the Gra­cious, hath prescribed unto thee.   (Baha’u’llah, Lights of Guidance, p. 229)

The son must show forth the utmost obedience towards his father;  ensure his comfort and welfare; and constantly strive to bring gladness to the hearts of his father and mother:

The son, on the other hand, must show forth the utmost obedience towards his father, and should conduct himself as a humble and a lowly servant. Day and night he should seek diligently to ensure the comfort and welfare of his loving father and to secure his good-pleasure. He must forgo his own rest and enjoyment and constantly strive to bring gladness to the hearts of his father and mother, that thereby he may attain the good-pleas­ure of the Almighty and be graciously aided by the hosts of the unseen.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 229)

Physical fatherhood and sonship are not important:

Clear it is that physical fatherhood and sonship are not factors of true import. Canaan was the son of Noah and Abraham was the son of Adhar. One father was a Prophet, but His son was disowned and cut off. Another father was an idolator, yet his Son was the great and exalted Friend … Therefore be not saddened. Pray thou and supplicate at the threshold of the One True God, begging forgiveness for thine earthly father.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, quoted in H.M. Balyuzi, Eminent Baha’is in the Time of Baha’u’llah, p. 28)

A real son is one who has branched from the spiritual part of his father’s soul and heart:

O dear one of `Abdu’l-Bahá! Be the son of thy father and be the fruit of that tree. Be a son that hath been born of his soul and heart and not only of water and clay. A real son is such one as hath branched from the spiritual part of man. I ask God that thou mayest be at all times confirmed and strengthened.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of `Abdu’l-Bahá”, p. 140)

Consequences for Not Doing His Duty

Should the father neglect this weightiest of all concerns, his paternal right shall be forfeit and he shall be accounted guilty in the sight of God:

O Muhammad! The Countenance of the Ancient of Days is turning towards thee, and He maketh mention of thee, and He commandeth the people of God to educate their chil­dren. Should the father neglect this weightiest of all concerns, which hath been revealed from the Pen of the Ancient King in the Most Holy Book, then his paternal right shall be forfeit and he shall be accounted guilty in the sight of God.  (Baha’u’llah, Extracts on Fatherhood in the Baha’i Writings)

 

How has this helped you understand the role of fathers and husbands better?  Post your comments below!

 

Backbiting on the Assembly

 

One of my readers wondered:

Would an LSA be backbiting if they discuss the negative qualities of an individual at an LSA meeting when the individual was not present?

Do Assemblies have the right to hear and talk about community members’ negative qualities if the LSA is being asked to make a decision about this member, even when the community member is not present?

Can an Assembly make decisions about community members, by NOT listening to negative reports of bad character traits and praying for guidance instead?

I replied:

First of all, dealing with this issue is working on the spiritual frontier of an Assembly’s growth, and patience is needed as we learn to rise to these challenges:

As you know, there can be many reasons for Assemblies not to respond to the believers. Undoubtedly, in some cases, it is because the friends and the Assemblies are struggling with issues on the frontier of their spiritual growth. Such a process can lead to tremendous development on both the individual and the collective levels. Sometimes we can facilitate this process of spiritual growth for individuals, and of maturation for Local and National Assemblies, by viewing these situations not as a problem but as opportunities for development. Taking part in this process should be a source of joy to us since we are, in effect, helping to build the kingdom of God on Earth. Nevertheless, patience is needed, particularly when it involves a subject that is close to our hearts, and when it seems that progress on the matter is lagging or has ceased entirely. We must maintain our confidence that the divinely ordained administrative system given to us by Bahá’u’lláh, and the inspiration of the Creative Word, will enable us to rise to these challenges. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)

I’m glad you want to be a peace-maker in your community, helping the weaker members learn to function as true believers:

What the believers need is not only … to really study the teachings, but also to have more peace-makers circulating among them . . . It is one of the functions of the older and the more mature Bahá’ís, to help the weaker ones to iron out their difficulties and learn to really function and live like true believers! (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)

You are quite correct in your understanding of the importance of avoiding backbiting; since it strikes at the very unity of the Bahá’í community.

You are quite correct in your understanding of the importance of avoiding backbiting; such conduct strikes at the very unity of the Bahá’í community. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)

In a letter written to an individual believer on behalf of the Guardian it is stated:

If we are better, if we show love, patience, and understanding of the weakness of others, if we seek to never criticize but rather encourage, others will do likewise, and we can really help the Cause through our example and spiritual strength. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 83)

This reinforces the role of the Assembly to act as loving parents. If we learn from the example shown by the House of Justice in their letters to individuals, they are always loving and encouraging.

However, learning not to concern oneself with the faults of others seems to be one of the most difficult lessons for people to master, and failing in this is area is a fertile cause of disputes among Bahá’ís, as you’ve discovered!

Learning not to concern oneself with the faults of others seems to be one of the most difficult lessons for people to master, and that failing in this is a fertile cause of disputes among Bahá’ís as it is among men and women in general. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)

Unfortunately it seems easier to gossip and criticize than to put into practice love, constructive words and cooperation:

Unfortunately, not only average people, but average Bahá’ís, are very immature; gossip, trouble-making, criticism, seem easier than the putting into practice of love, constructive words and cooperation. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)

It’s an imperfect eye that beholds imperfections in others:

The imperfect eye beholds imperfections. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 93)

This is the standard we need to reach for:

One must expose the praiseworthy qualities of the souls and not their evil attributes. The friends must overlook their shortcomings and faults and speak only of their virtues and not their defects. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. IV, No. 11, p. 192)

One must see in every human being only that which is worthy of praise. When this is done, one can be a friend to the whole human race. If, however, we look at people from the standpoint of their faults, then being a friend to them is a formidable task. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 168)

Here’s a story of how to apply the standard:

It is related that His Holiness Christ—May my life be a sacrifice to Him!—one day, accompanied by His apostles, passed by the corpse of a dead animal. One of them said: ‘How putrid has this animal become!’ The other exclaimed: ‘How it is deformed!’ A third cried out: ‘What a stench! How cadaverous looking!’ but His Holiness Christ said: “Look at its teeth! how white they are!’ Consider, that He did not look at all at the defects of that animal; nay, rather, He searched well until He found the beautiful white teeth. He observed only the whiteness of the teeth and overlooked entirely the deformity of the body, the dissolution of its organs and the bad odour. This is the attribute of the children of the Kingdom. This is the conduct and the manner of the real Bahá’ís. I hope that all the believers will attain to this lofty station. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. IV, No. 11, p. 192)

In the next quote it looks pretty clear that discussing the faults of others in their absence is forbidden:

As regards backbiting, i.e. discussing the faults of others in their absence, the teachings are very emphatic. In a Tablet to an American friend the Master wrote: ‘The worst human quality and the most great sin is backbiting, more especially when it emanates from the tongues of the believers of God. If some means were devised so that the doors of backbiting were shut eternally and each one of the believers unsealed his lips in praise of others, then the Teachings of His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh would spread, the hearts be illumined, the spirits glorified, and the human world would attain to everlasting felicity.’ (Quoted in Star of West, Vol. IV. p. 192) Bahá’u’lláh says in Hidden Words; ‘Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command ACCURSED ARE THOU.’ The condemnation of backbiting could hardly be couched in stronger language than in these passages, and it is obviously one of the foremost obligations for Bahá’ís to set their faces against this practice. Even if what is said against another person be true, the mentioning of his faults to others still comes under the category of backbiting, and is forbidden. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 87)

In the following quote, the position is clear and it doesn’t say there are exceptions to the rule:

Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command, accursed wouldst thou be, and to this I bear witness.
(Bahá’u’lláh, The Arabic Hidden Words, 27)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá does not permit adverse criticism by name in discussion unless the situation is of such gravity as to endanger the interests of the Faith:

‘Abdu’l-Bahá does not permit adverse criticism of individuals by name in discussion among the friends, even if the one criticizing believes that he is doing so to protect the interests of the Cause. If the situation is of such gravity as to endanger the interests of the Faith, the complaint, as your National Spiritual Assembly has indicated, should be submitted to the Local Spiritual Assembly, or as you state to a representative of the institution of the Counsellors, for consideration and action. In such cases, of course, the name of the person or persons involved will have to be mentioned. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 90)

Here is a checklist we could all use!

  • Would this detraction serve any useful purpose?
  • Would it please the Blessed Beauty?
  • Would it contribute to the lasting honour of the friends?
  • Would it promote the holy Faith?
  • Would it support the covenant?
  • Would it be of any possible benefit to any soul?

The answer to all of these is No, never!

If any individual should speak ill of one who is absent, it is incumbent on his hearers, in a spiritual and friendly manner, to stop him, and say in effect:  would this detraction serve any useful purpose? Would it please the Blessed Beauty, contribute to the lasting honour of the friends, promote the holy Faith, support the covenant, or be of any possible benefit to any soul? No, never! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Selections From The Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 230-231)

The consequences are clear – it makes the dust to settle so thickly on the heart that the ears would hear no more; the eyes would no longer behold the light of truth; it dampens the zeal of the friends; makes them indifferent; and is the leading reason why the friends withdraw:

On the contrary, it would make the dust to settle so thickly on the heart that the ears would hear no more, and the eyes would not longer behold the light of truth. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Selections From The Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 230-231)

If any soul speak ill of an absent one, the only result will clearly be this: he will dampen the zeal of the friends and tend to make them indifferent. For backbiting is divisive, it is the leading cause among the friends of a disposition to withdraw.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Selections From The Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 230-231)

Even when an Assembly is dealing with an issue, backbiting causes more damage than the original offence:

If a believer faced with knowledge of another Bahá’ís conduct is unsure what course to take, he can, of course, always consult his Local Spiritual Assembly for advice. If, for some reason, he is reluctant at that stage to inform his Spiritual Assembly, he can consult an Auxiliary Board member or assistant. Whatever steps are taken, it is vital that the believers refrain from gossip and backbiting, for this can only harm the Faith, causing perhaps more damage than would have been caused by the original offense. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities)

This one seems to have been written just for you, since you are standing for righteousness already!

Beware lest ye give ear to the words of those from whom the foul smell of malice and envy can be discerned; pay no heed to them, and stand ye for righteousness. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 200)

And you are doing your utmost to educate and prevent others from making complaints against others in your presence.

It is obvious that if we listen to those who complain to us about the faults of others we are guilty of complicity in their backbiting. We should therefore, as tactfully as possible, but yet firmly, do our utmost to prevent others from making accusations or complaints against others in our presence. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 93)

Confidentiality

Every believer must know that he can confide a personal problem to an institution of the Faith, with the assurance that knowledge of the matter will remain confidential:

Every believer must know that he can confide a personal problem to an institution of the Faith, with the assurance that knowledge of the matter will remain confidential.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

If a Bahá’í accepts confidential information, he is in duty bound to preserve that confidentiality:

Members of Assemblies, whether they are assistants [to Auxiliary Board members] or not, are obviously in a position to receive confidential information as individuals from several sources. It is an important principle of the Faith that one must not promise what one is not going to fulfill. Therefore, if a Bahá’í accepts confidential information either by virtue of his profession (e.g. as a doctor, a lawyer, etc.), or by permitting another person to confide in him, he is in duty bound to preserve that confidentiality.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Any information which comes to the notice of an Assembly member by reason of his membership on that Assembly must not be divulged by that member, even though the Assembly itself may later decide to share it:

Any information which comes to the notice of an Assembly member, solely by reason of his membership on that Assembly must not be divulged by that member, even though the Assembly itself may later decide to share it.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Assistants have the same duty to observe the confidentiality of its consultations, and of matters considered by the Assembly to be confidential, as does any other member:

Assistants who are members of a National Assembly or a national committee do not function as assistants in relation to that body, and they have the same duty to observe the confidentiality of its consultations, and of matters considered by the Assembly to be confidential, as does any other member.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

If a member of the Assembly knows of a personal problem, and if he has not undertaken to keep it confidential, he may bring it to the Assembly’s attention if he feels it would be in the interests of the Faith for him to do so, but he is not obliged to:

If a member of the Assembly knows of a personal problem, and if he has not undertaken to keep it confidential, he may bring it to the Assembly’s attention if he feels it would be in the interests of the Faith for him to do so, but he is not obliged to.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Every institution in the Faith has certain matters which it considers should be kept confidential, and any member who is privy to such confidential information is obliged to preserve the confidentiality within the institution where he learned it:

Every institution in the Faith has certain matters which it considers should be kept confidential, and any member who is privy to such confidential information is obliged to preserve the confidentiality within the institution where he learned it. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Where no confidentiality is involved the institutions must strive to avoid the stifling atmosphere of secrecy:

Where no confidentiality is involved the institutions must strive to avoid the stifling atmosphere of secrecy.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

The Assembly must carefully consider which information should fall in the category of confidential information; which should not be shared with others, and which may be divulged under special circumstances, and how:

The Assembly must itself carefully consider which information should rightly fall in the category of confidential information and which should not be shared with others, and which information may be divulged under special circumstances, and how such information may be divulged.   (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Should confidential matters regarding personal problems be freely shared with others, the confidence of the believers in the Assembly and its members will obviously be destroyed:

Should confidential matters regarding personal problems be freely shared with others, upon application, the confidence of the believers in the Assembly and its members will obviously be destroyed. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Several weeks later, another reader asked similar questions:

  • Is an Assembly bound by the same prohibition against backbiting as an individual?
  • Can an Assembly discuss an individual who is not present in the room?
  • What are the implications for the Assembly as a Local House of Justice?
  • Would a Local Assembly, National Spiritual Assembly and the Universal House of Justice
  • all use the same guidelines?
  • What is the Assemblies role/responsibility in protection?  (for example in cases of child abuse)
  • If an Assembly is not allowed to make a decision with someone who is not a member in the room – how could it rule on cases concerning individuals (again for example in the case of child abuse or marital disputes)?  Does the Local Assembly actually have the right/responsibility to deal with such issues?

I replied:

Great question!  Thanks for asking!  I’ve done a bit of thinking on this subject already!  You might want to take a look (at what I wrote above)!

While it doesn’t deal specifically with some of the individual questions you ask, it will get you into the ballpark!

Here is the most pertinent answer I’ve been able to find:

If a believer faced with knowledge of another Bahá’ís conduct is unsure what course to take, he can, of course, always consult his Local Spiritual Assembly for advice. If, for some reason, he is reluctant at that stage to inform his Spiritual Assembly, he can consult an Auxiliary Board member or assistant. Whatever steps are taken, it is vital that the believers refrain from gossip and backbiting, for this can only harm the Faith, causing perhaps more damage than would have been caused by the original offense. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities)

In terms of reporting abuse, these quotes might give you what you’re looking for

I think what I was trying to say (in the article above) and perhaps didn’t do it very well as I’m just thinking on the spot . . .

We live in a society absolutely immersed in backbiting; to the extent that most of us get caught up in it as second nature; and we often don’t examine our participation in it very much, even though we’ve been told:

The worst human quality and the most great sin is backbiting.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 88)

So since most of us are immature in this way; when we come to Assemblies, we bring this tendency with us, and it’s easy to hide behind our role as Assembly members as permission to engage in backbiting.

I think a much higher spiritual principle is being called on us here.  Perhaps a close study of these quotes on backbiting might result in a fruitful discussion for the Assembly.

Remember, when we come to a Spiritual Assembly meeting, it’s a “spiritual” meeting; not a “problem solving” one; so spiritual principles need to take ascendency.  My hunch is that if whatever issue is before your Assembly now, could be better served if everyone became thoroughly acquainted with the quotes on backbiting; and for the Assembly to attempt to make a decision based on them.  Even though it’s an unusual approach to decision making, I think both individually and as an institution, you’d see tremendous spiritual growth by applying them.

Does this make sense?

Another thing to consider is that the Assembly is called on to be “loving parents”; and we have absolutely no idea what a loving parent would do!

In an ideal world, both parents would consult together and arrive at a decision in unity.

In order for both parents to have the same information, it would be a more effective consultation if they were both present when all the information was gleaned from their wayward child and those who feel wronged by their behaviour.

Many Assemblies appoint counselling committees composed of a small number of Assembly members, and rely on them to give the information to the whole Assembly.  While this might be expedient, surely it’s just another form of backbiting with institutional support!

The following quote suggests that every Assembly member needs to have access to the same information, heard directly from the source, so that they can attain make an informed decision:

O SON OF SPIRIT!

The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.  (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 2)

When every individual Assembly member has heard all the facts, directly from the source, there will be no need for backbiting.  Consultation and decision making done this way will be a lot easier and more effective.

I’d really be interested in continuing a dialogue with you and your Assembly about this; as it’s a very important topic for the whole world!

It may even be time to consult the House of Justice on it!

Hope you find this helpful! I realize most of it talks about individuals; but I believe that it applies to individual Assembly members as well.

How has this been helpful?  What’s been your experience?  What would you add?

 

Why do Good Relationships Go Bad; and What Can we Do to Get them Back?

 

I’ve had a LOT of experience with this experience and judging by the divorce rate alone, I know I’m not the only one!  We were created to be in relationship with one another, because that’s how we grow.

Taking Offense:

The Bahá’í standard is that we don’t give or take offence, but how many of us fall into this “habit of thought and speech)?

Bahá’í consultation is not an easy process. It requires love, kindliness, moral courage and humility. Thus no member should ever allow himself to be prevented from expressing frankly his view because it may offend a fellow member; and, realizing this, no member should take offence at another member’s statements.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 179-180)

One person does something (an event) which causes us to get upset or take offence (the meaning we give to it); and we believe they are the cause of our upset (the lie).  For example:  This weekend I was hoping to see my son while I was in the city he lived in.  I love him very much and I know he loves me.  I extended the invitation and he didn’t respond.  (an event).  I took offence and my lower nature had a lot of fun feeding me these lies:

  • Judgements:  He’s thoughtless, inconsiderate, hurtful.
  • Suspicion:  He doesn’t love me anymore; he doesn’t want me in his life
  • Anger and Bitterness:  I’m never going to ask him again; or answer his calls again.
  • Resentment:  Why does he always do this to me?  Why do I always set myself up for his rejection?
  • Envy and Jealousy:  Why do other people have frequent interactions with their children and I don’t?

The Bahá’í Writings tell us how hard it is to free ourselves from these worldly thoughts which attract us to the centre of our selves.  If we aren’t assisted by the divine power, we’ll escape from one and fall into another.  We try to soar upward, but the density of the love of self, like gravity, pulls us back into the prison of self.  The only thing that can keep us ever on the path of upward ascension is the power of the Holy Spirit:

Just as the earth attracts everything to the centre of gravity, and every object thrown upward into space will come down, so also material ideas and worldly thoughts attract man to the centre of self. Anger, passion, ignorance, prejudice, greed, envy, covetousness, jealousy and suspicion prevent man from ascending to the realms of holiness, imprisoning him in the claws of self and the cage of egotism. The physical man, unassisted by the divine power, trying to escape from one of these invisible enemies, will unconsciously fall into hands of another. No sooner does he attempt to soar upward than the density of the love of self, like the power of gravity, draws him to the centre of the earth. The only power that is capable of delivering man from this captivity is the power of the Holy Spirit. The attraction of the power of the Holy Spirit is so effective that it keeps man ever on the path of upward ascension.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 241)

Blame

How often do we blame others for our feelings, instead of owning them ourselves?  My son didn’t make me feel any of those negative thoughts above – his action was just an action, until I gave it meaning, and the meaning came from my lower nature, it didn’t come from God.

It behoveth you, therefore, to attach blame to no one except to yourselves, for the things ye have committed, if ye but judge fairly.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 222-223)

The more we blame each other for our feelings, the more we take offence, even though no offence might have been meant at the beginning, when the other person was just trying to state what happened and what it would take to get their needs met, but when this happens, the whole relationship can start to fray.

Let’s look at some other examples:

  • Your husband leaves the toilet seat up after you’ve told him a million times to put it down, and it seems like his failure to do so is causing your anger and upset.
  • A friend doesn’t agree with something you said and you think her lack of agreement is causing your upset.
  • Your boss gets angry with you and you blame your anxiety on what she said and how she said it.

Each of these things is just an event:

  • Your husband leaves the toilet seat up
  • A friend disagrees with you
  • The boss is angry at something you did

The upset we feel comes from believing the lies we tell ourselves about what happened.

  • He has no respect for me; he never listens; nothing I want is important to him . . .
  • If she doesn’t agree with me she’s no friend of mine; why isn’t my point important?  how could she be my friend and disagree on this important issue? . . .
  • She must be PMS’ing; she’s made me look bad; she’s shamed me in front of my coworkers . . .

So if most of the problems between us come from taking offence, believing the lies we tell ourselves and blaming others, what can we do to free ourselves from these habits of thought?

Learning how to distinguish between what happened and the meaning we give to it is important if we don’t want to keep drinking poison and staying stuck in our lower natures.  Instead of blaming them for making us angry, we need to learn to love them for the imperfect sinners they are, and see their actions as arising from their lower natures.

As a devoted believer you are urged to . . . attain a level of insight which sees them as captives of their lower nature, whose actions can only lead them deeper into unhappiness and separation from God. By this means, you can liberate yourself from the anger to which you refer in your letter, and foster your own spiritual development.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

We can’t change what happened; but we can learn to stop believing the lies we tell ourselves about what it means; and learn to think more positively instead.

When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content.  Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship, and happiness.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 29)

If just one person learns to dissolve their negative feelings, the whole argument will come to an end.  The other person can’t push our buttons and there is no one to argue with; and if you aren’t busy arguing with each other, it’s easy to be more loving.

Instead of personalizing my upset about my son’s lack of response, I could just as easily tell myself:

  • His phone might have been lost, stolen or broken and he didn’t get the message
  • He was away
  • He was busy with his own life
  • He just forgot

None of those beliefs have the negative charge the others ones did, and allowed me the freedom to overlook his faults and forgive him; which makes it much more likely we’ll have a more positive, loving interaction the next time we speak.

Changing a habit of thought or speech is not necessarily easy.  It requires us to be vigilant and persistent, and practice until we get it right.  Don’t worry!  If you’re sincere in wanting to change this habit, God will increase the number of tests to give you an opportunity!  Don’t lose heart!  The more we work at changing our thoughts and reactions, the more we move the world towards peace!

Freeing ourselves from the bondage of blame is such an important topic, I’ve written a whole ebook on it, called Letting Go of Fault-Finding, Blame and Accusation, which you can download by clicking on the title